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Dodging Brooklyn’s Streetcars: 1895

Exactly how did the Dodgers get their name?  Yes, the Brooklyn Dodgers (1884 to 1957) eventually became the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But who or what were they dodging in Brooklyn? Were they avoiding tags and stealing bases? Of course they were, but the truth behind their name was a hair-raising matter of life and death involving dodging Brooklyn’s streetcars.

“The Dodgers” is a shortened version of “The Trolley Dodgers,” a reference to the complex maze of dangerous trolley lines that crisscrossed Brooklyn in the mid-1890s.

Some people believe that the shortened version of “Dodgers” was first used in 1891 when the team moved to Eastern Park, which was surrounded by trolley lines. But these were slow-moving cars that didn’t require much high-speed dodging. While the horse car was a revolution in urban transit, it had its shortcomings, like the fact that they ran as fast as a brisk walk.

The only truly high-speed electric trolley service available in Brooklyn at the time was the Coney Island and Brooklyn line, which ran from the Brooklyn city limits at Prospect Park to Coney Island, not exactly in Dodger territory.

Electric Trolleys Win Despite Protest

Enter General Slocum, a Civil War hero in the Battle of Atlanta who petitioned for permits to build electric trolley lines across the streets of Brooklyn. Taxpayers flocked to protest the dangerous new contraptions and their fears were founded.

The new electric trolleys travelled at speed up to fifteen miles per hour, an unprecedented three times the speed of typical horse-drawn carts. These break-neck speeds, combined with chaotic traffic patterns meant danger.

Edison’s DC Power Increased the Dangers

Additionally, the electric powered trolleys rand on Edison Electric’s DC power rather than Tesla’s AC power that we use today. Edison Electric had invested heavily in the generation and transmission of DC power in the area and the DC powered motors (unlike the AC models)  jerked and bucked when started.  Trolleys could jump 20 to 50 feet, posing threats to  pedestrians and horses alike.

Numerous Accidents and Deaths Resulted

Despite the dangers, by 1892, the new and improved electric trolleys became a reality.

Newspapers printed numerous accounts of accidents and stories about the double threat of electrocution and collision. In the first year, there were five deaths from trolley accidents. There were 51 deaths in 1893 and 34 in 1894, presumably a smaller number once people learned to dodge the trolleys

Trolley Dodgers” Coined

The term “Trolley Dodger” was first used in the Scranton Tribune on May 11, 1865.

“The ‘Rainmakers’ and the “Trolley Dodgers’ are the latest terms used by base ball writers to designate the Phillies and Brooklyn’s respectively.”

Electric trolleys ran across the five boroughs of New York City for seventy years, on power delivered through wires running overhead or in underground conduits. They were faster and cleaner than horse cars and cheaper to build and operate than cable cars.

Electric Trolleys Trumped By Automobiles

By the 1920s, they were doomed by drivers of trucks and cars that considered the trolleys a nuisance, just as the trolley drivers had considered the horses a nuisance decades before.

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